A protest over the demolition of trees in a park was the catalyst for widespread protests and violence in Istanbul.

Hyde Park in support of the Taksim Square protest
A demonstration in Hyde Park in support of the Taksim Square protest

While it is clear from the events that there were multiple issues with government policy and, in particular, with the response to demonstrators, it is still significant that the first cause for the unrest was the decision by the government to allow the destruction of an open space for redevelopment.

Landscape‘s honorary editor, Tim Waterman, writes: ‘The landscape spaces of Gezi Park and Taksim Square are the catalysts, symbols, and battlegrounds for the ongoing protests and conflict in Istanbul.To be sure, larger issues about governance and democracy are at stake, but it is important also to bear in mind that each political issue or ideal finds expression in landscape space. What is a park if not a forthright expression of the value of the common good and the freedom for all to associate in democratic public space? Public parks have always had this deeply political idea at their core, and they have always required activism in order to build and maintain them.

”Now, in Istanbul, the Erdogan government has moved to replace a park with a shopping centre. This is a deeply loaded move on many levels; not least that it represents the triumph of private greed over the common good, but also that it replaces free public space with controlled and private space that is under surveillance. Taksim is already presided over by the ostentatious, arrogantly sited, and ham-fisted architectural hulk that is the Ritz-Carlton hotel,  built, I am told, with official blessing but without formal planning consent. It hogs the skyline, is a visual affront, and flaunts the power of unaccountable wealth. A mall at Gezi Park just magnifies the level of official spite evident at Taksim.

‘Taksim Square and Gezi Park have great power as symbols of freedom of speech and association. For Erdogan to raze the park might be compared to building upon Speakers Corner in Hyde Park or, perhaps, Trafalgar Square. The space is occupied not just in three physical dimensions but in the political imagination of Istanbuls people. This should be a lesson to landscape architects that what we do is a political act with remarkable significance and resonance for our ideals of democracy and the public good. We are all activists, whether we like it or not, and we should be standing up in solidarity with the brave protesters in Gezi Park. ‘

Ceylan Belek Ombregt, a native of Istanbul and a landscape architect living in London, writes: The Gezi Park demonstrations and their aftermath are actually the drop of water that makes the bucket overflow.

‘For a long time, the Turkish government has been persistently attacking the natural resources of the country. There are currently 5000 planned hydroelectric power plants, specifically in the Black Sea region, most of which are already under construction. The government is currently preparing to present a bill to the Parliament, which will ease the approval of such developments.

‘Although local communities filed lawsuits against the government and demonstrated their objections, the government had continuously suppressed these communities’ voices. When the proposed “Protection of Nature and Biodiversity Bill” comes into force, no one will be able to stop these projects any more. In addition, many of our cultural heritage sites will be flooded by the newly developed dam projects. On my recent travels to the Black Sea region, I witnessed for myself how cruel the implications of these projects are for the environment.

‘With the release of the draft bill, the sole determinant of the protected status of these National Parks and the protection zones will be the central government’s Ministry of Environment and Urbanism and its uninformed ministers.

‘The draft bill allows the use and exploitation of natural resources, such as forests, wetlands and shores, rather than their protection. It introduces a vague definition of “public good/ welfare” to overwrite the “protected areas” status and opens up these areas to projects like hydroelectric power plants, highway developments, industrial sites and energy investments. The draft bill also abolishes the “Act of National Parks”, which will put the National Parks in a vulnerable position.

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